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Radical departure from traditional drug war orthodoxy

Opinion Editorial
June 18, 2006

By Mike Krause

House Bill 1145, signed into law last month, creates but does not fund a state methamphetamine task force in Colorado.

Unfortunately, the bill also ensures a continuation of the currently failed drug war strategy of trying to arrest and incarcerate away the drug issue.

The bill requires, among other things, that the task force “assist and augment local drug task forces without supplanting them.”

In 2005, Colorado received over $6 million in federal tax dollars through the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. The lion’s share of the federal loot, over $2.5 million, matched by over $4 million in local and state tax dollars, went to Colorado’s 18 different local drug task forces … the same task forces that the new state task force is not supposed to “supplant.”

It’s not that these local task forces don’t stay busy. In 2005, they made a combined 3,900 drug arrests, with more than 2,400 convictions. Impressive numbers, but really just a re-run of the decades old drug war strategy of arrest and incarceration that has never actually reduced the availability of illegal drugs.

In fact, in his 2006 federal drug control budget, President Bush tried — unsuccessfully — to do away with the JAG program, and thus federal funding to local Colorado task forces.

Federal Drug Czar John Walters, who can hardly be called soft on drugs, defended the President’s effort, saying it is time to eliminate anti-drug programs that don’t work. “Otherwise,” he said, “you are chasing primarily small people, putting them in jail, year after year, generation after generation.”

Moreover, all of these local task forces continue to engage in marijuana enforcement at some level, with at least two task forces–in the San Luis Valley and in Summit County — actually making more arrests for marijuana than for any other drug last year…a fairly amazing waste of already scarce resources.

The new and as-of-yet unfunded state task force has as part of its mission to “examine the prevention, intervention, and treatment of the abuse of methamphetamine…” This would be a fairly radical departure from traditional drug war orthodoxy.

There are actually millions of federal and state tax dollars available for this mission; unfortunately, most of these dollars are being used to prop up the false notion that we can arrest and incarcerate away the drug problem … and to continue the absurd enforcement of marijuana prohibition in Colorado.

— Mike Krause is with the Independence Institute, a Colorado Libertarian think tank.

Origanally Published in the Denver Daily News